Last night George Bush said "This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won."
While these rebarbative platitudes are hard to disagree with, they actually reveal a fundamental flaw in the administration's thinking. Right or wrong, the fight we "entered in" (and I believe the language should be "entered into") was to eliminate the nuclear and biological treat that Saddam posed. (Of course, he was less dangerous to U.S. security than the shoe-bomber Richard Reid.) And in the real war, we succeeded. Bush was ironically right when he proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" on the deck of that battleship.
The fight we are in now is causally connected to the original intent, but not conceptually linked. Look at it this way. If Saddam had died naturally, and if the country had skittered into the sectarian violence that now devastates it, would America have sent troops into the region? And if we had, would we be calling it a "war" or a peace-keeping operation? The "war" framing - as my fellow blogger George Lakoff would put it - is completely wrong. Whatever support the president has is based on the American reluctance to "lose" a war, to leave a challenge unfulfilled. Change the frame, and even the low level of support will crater.
The bankrupt logic also condemns Bush when he says "Everyone one of us wishes this war were over and won." What does that exactly mean? If it means that Iraq has a stable, democratic government run by a love-fest of Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, that means the "war" he describes is, in fact, the civil war whose existence the administration denies.
The September 11th Commission called the events of that day a "failure of imagination." The chaos in Iraq is an even more egregious failure of imagination, because the likelihood of the descent of a nation ruled by an iron fist into militia madness is blindingly obvious. The administration that failed to contemplate the obvious is ill-equipped to conceptualize a solution to the intractable.
Think of it this way: Saddam's regime was the anomaly. The current situation is a regression to the mean, because Iraq is not and never was a "nation." It was a smoldering pastiche, held together by threats, torture, and a secret police. Bush said last night that "If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government will be overrun by extremists on all sides," as he insists that that "...our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital."
The trouble is that Baghdad is not the government's capital, the government's capital is in Washington, D.C. Baghdad doesn't belong to anyone, and 20,000 troops aren't going to fix that.
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